After his arrival, Lynx had run out of knowing what to say. In the presence of relief, and the absence of sarcasm, he was at a loss. He had wanted to yell until the whole world fell apart, and there was no where left for his children to go, except the safety of home. He'd wanted to cry until he was empty and his emotions had evaporated. But he also knew that he couldn't do either, so he did nothing but turn to patience, and waited for the world to feel a little more familiar and for normalcy to resume.
Eventually, the two walked back into the hostel, abandoning the empty veranda for comfortable seating. Even though there were only two Miliners present, they somehow managed to drag with them the presence of the whole clan - babies and children, laughter and spit up, and cat, meowing and floating orange hair landing gently on clothes, and grandparents, garden and all. Maebe had gone from sulking loner to protected tribe member, and the mother hens and curious knight errants gave her and her father a blessedly wide berth.
"Yeah." Lynx shuffled his feet on the jute carpet, while surveying the assembled tourists, adventurers, and get-a-way starlets. "It was cruel and unusual to try to leave your family with no hint as to whether or not you were ok. I can't think of a worse thing to put a parent through."
There was a sharp intake of breath from Maebe, and her scowl fluttered through a flock of emotions, before settling into an uneasy frown. "Oh."
The two Miliners sat side by side, each weighing their next words as carefully as possible without a true sense of balance to measure them against. Lynx felt a little queasy, and he sat with his fingers linked over his (aging and growing) belly. Where was the little friend and playmate that had spent hours playing with her plastic Binky horse? Who was this wandering creature, that had sprung from home without a hug and a good bye?
Not for the first time, he wondered if his darling wife Alesha had been right to come back to him. Uncomfortable in the present, his mind wandered back to the past. The first year and a half after graduating from high school had also been uncomfortable, but at least it was familiar territory.
He'd dated Alesha starting the summer after his sophomore year of high school. She was mature, kind, accepting, and absolutely brilliant with a computer. He'd been positively stupid when it came to dating; eager but with the common sense of a cucumber. Even so, Alesha accepted him - and managed to have enough common sense for two. He'd loved the way her hair had blossomed out into a red explosion every time it was humid, although his father, Ocelot, had said she looked like a wookie. Even when they were calm and still, sitting silently on the (now discarded) grey love seat, flipping through the latest novels they'd scavenged from the local used book store, he could look over at her and her bright hair and feel like a million little explosive butterflies were on his skin.
Starting at University had been rough, and he'd received his first C's and D's. He couldn't focus. The separation never lost it's sting, and he never stopped looking for her on the campus.
And then she came to the house. Holding infant Maebe - the Miliner with the unlikely name. The only explanation she'd given was that she wanted him to have choices. He'd told her the only choice he would have ever made was her. They got married then and there, and he'd spent the next month holding Maebe as much as possible - except when he was at class he was e-mailing Alesha, and when he was asleep he was holding his wife.
A part of him always worried that she'd really left because she suspected that he was too immature to be a good parent. He was constantly worried he was proving the phantom, judgmental, Alesha right. Vanishing, and taking her pregnancy with her, was one of the only decisions she'd ever made that he outright felt was wrong. Surely, there was something he wasn't seeing?
The voice of his eldest daughter tugged his brain back into his skull.
"How did I know you were here?" Lynx's eyes were sad, but he still smiled. He had the same smile every time he read a book to Bay or told Fisher and Ari a ghost story.
"Well, I followed several arcane clues, but lost the trail last Wednesday. I had given you up for lost by Thursday, but I was able to finally deduce your location with the help of a glowing lobster that at first refused to speak with me due to his pathological fear of ghosts finding his secret bunker. I won him over with baked goods, due to his addiction to cream scones with currants in." He paused, allowing himself a few moments to picture the scene, his eyes barely beginning to glint with child like amusement.
"Also, when you showed up at the airport the ticket lady called to see if it was ok to have our darling youthful minor travel alone. Mom talked her out of making you wear a little tag on your jacket."
"We guess it would take you about two weeks to do whatever it is you needed to do. It was only a very small coincidence that you called just as I was arriving here." He smiled reassuringly. "So, let me ask you something."
"I was trying to learn how to channel or at least control my temper."
"In a few days?"
"Yeah. Stupid." Maebe ground the toe of her boot around in a slow half circle.
"No. Well...rushed." Lynx sighed and leaned back on the bench. "So now you're angry with yourself, instead of other people. In instead of out isn't really better."
"Yeah..." her voice cracked under her father's warm gaze.
"So you were trying to learn sim fu? That's actually not such a bad way to go about it. Did you go to the tiny training area, or to the larger academy with the exercise equipment and mirrored room upstairs?"
"Unless they remodeled since I was here. Over the years I've made it up to the second belt of sim fu." He paused to laugh gently at himself while prodding his belly. "Hard to believe, right?"
"Um...?" Maebe blinked at her father, at a loss.
"Anyway, what you wanted to do was...is a good idea. You've been very impulsive, though." His voice was light, though he frowned. Maebe slumped further down, retreating into a low slouch on the wooden seat.
"You have so much talent, Pumpkin. I know you know that. And yet you spend so much energy being angry - if I'm frustrated by it then I'm sure you are, too. If you could redirect it, I think there's very little that could hold you back."
"But..." Maebe smoothed her skirt as she tucked her legs up close to her knee. "I can't redirect it."
"The training dummy hit you, didn't it?"
"A lot. In the face."
"Yeah, well. Lets go train."
"I...I want to go home."
"You expected to go home, I'm sure. But do you really want to leave now? I'll treat you to some breakfast waffles with lychee sauce at one of those food stalls, then we can head over to train - ok?"
Maebe's stomach detected it's chance, and gurgled helpfully. "Yeah, Dad, that sounds great."
"Oh yeah, you bet."
The two made their way to the market, where they filled up on sugar and carbs and burning hot black tea, and then burning hot green tea to help themselves feel philosophical.
Soon, the pair had reached the dreaded Academy. Before Maebe had time to get mad, or get smacked in the face, her father was showing her how to warm up and practice the moves correctly.
Maebe found her father playing chess against himself. He seemed to be, at best, reaching a stalemate against himself. "Hey, Pumpkin. I scheduled our flight for tomorrow. You're progressing extremely quickly. You seem to have a real knack."
"Thanks. Er...what time is our flight?"
"Not until about 9 PM, so we don't need to be at the airport until 4 or 5."
Lynx raised an eyebrow, but he didn't ask why that was good, as they prepared to bicycle back to the hostel. He was reasonably certain that if it had involved a boy, he would have spotted it. Though, for all the stress she'd put him through, at least he hadn't had to worry about one of his children dating. Yet.
The next day Maebe woke early, the sun practically tasted of lemonade smiles on her eyelids as she stood on the veranda with a hot cup of coffee. There was just one thing left to do before the long flight home.